The Right Thing To Do
Paritosh Uttam
I hadn't read the paper for days. I wasn't supposed to— to avoid getting influenced by public opinion and all that blah— and I hadn't. So when I noticed a copy of the day's Times on the sidetable, I gently prised Romi's arm from around my waist and picked up the paper. The only story it seemed to carry was the death sentence I had pronounced on the convict.
Romi stirred and dug her nails into my bare skin. "Lie down," she mumbled. When I didn't budge, she propped herself on an elbow and squinted in the light. "What do they say?"
I snorted, and quoted from the paper: "'Capital punishment in this age indicates an uncivilised society. The Honourable Justice Mukherji seems to believe in the barbaric adage of an eye for an eye.'" "These yellow, corrupt journalists!"
Stroking my chest soothingly, Romi babytalked. "Honourable Justice Mukherji is angry?"
But I was far too enraged to be soothed so easily. "As if molesting a minor, mutilating and then strangling her is part of civilised society. Does such a person deserve to live? If the Indian penal code allowed me, I would have had the man buggered, castrated and then strangled. The noose is too good for him."
"Good news?"
I glared at her.
"You must be right," she said, gently.
"Of course I am. It is the right thing to do." I crushed the paper and flung it. "I am the judge. I know what's fair and right. Don't people think of the victim and her family before sympathising with the murderer?"
Romi's patient stroking gradually had its effect. I grew calmer. I realised I was breathing too fast and it wasn't good for the heart. Now she twirled my chest hair and the sensation was so satisfying: it gave me courage and the confidence that I was correct; I felt like a man.
"It's about honour, Romi. When one doesn't have honour, one does immoral, unethical deeds, even when one's conscience protests. Look at today's politicians. By rights, they ought to be the upholders of our ideals. But in reality they are synonyms for avarice, corruption, hypocrisy, and everything that's dishonourable."
Romi giggled. "I love it when you talk big words."
I patted her cheek. She was still a kid though her unclothed figure belied it.
"We used to have leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri who resigned owing moral responsibility when a train accident occurred. Can you imagine that happening today? Now our leaders aren't merely thick-skinned; they have bulletproof hides."
I knew I was boring her as she tried to stifle a yawn, but I was in this post-coital philosophical mood that I didn't want to interrupt.
"Today, if someone says, 'You think you are Gandhi?', he is not complimenting, he is mocking you. What a fall, what a tragedy! Becoming a Gandhi today is foolishness of the highest order. Your only place is in museums and history textbooks, not in the real, living world."
My discourse was acting like a soporific to her. She kept nodding and falling forward, and yet I carried on.
"Honour, justice, fairplay, morals, ethics, duty, responsibility... meaningless words that ought to be struck off from the dictionary. Archaic and obsolete nonsense."
The clock chimed four. Both of us started. The kids! I struggled out of bed and began pulling on my trousers. Romi stared.
"I have to pick up the kids from school," I said.
"Can't your wife pick them up?" she pouted.
"She can't drive. Besides," I said, buttoning up my shirt, "it's a man's job. It's my duty."
She watched me tuck in my shirt, zip up and fasten my belt. "It's the right thing for you to do?" she asked.
"It's the right thing for me to do." I took in her supine form, and suddenly overcome by the sight of her vulnerability and her loveliness— the rise of her breasts tantalisingly covered by the sheet— rushed over and kissed her. "I will be back soon," I promised, giving her my word of honour.
Paritosh Uttam is 31 and leads a Dr Jekyll-and-Mr Hyde existence in Pune, India. During the day he is a regular software engineer and turns into a writer at late night or early morning.